17 December 2010

Quiet Indonesians! It’s the Lupang Hinirang!

The thing that distressed me the most last night about the Philippines versus Indonesia AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final was not the sight of Neil Etheridge flapping at the cross that led to the only goal of the match. All credit to the lad – he dusted himself off after the howler and simply got on with things, even catching a couple of crosses with textbook simplicity.

Rather, what had the hairs at the back of my head up on end with indignation was the fact that the Indonesians on the stands could not keep their traps shut while the Lupang Hinirang was playing. I actually had to cock an ear towards the television set just to determine if that was our anthem. Our boys held their hands respectfully towards their chests; but all I could hear were drumbeats and the continuous roar of the spectators.

That was disrespectful!

Oh, well… If the Indonesian spectators felt they had to drown out even the playing of the Lupang Hinirang, that probably gave away the fact that they were not as certain as their press had tried to lead them into believing that the match was going to be a stroll in the park for their team. Having said that, it was still disrespectful!

This is just me; and I am the sort who stops dead in the middle of the mall’s parking lot if the anthem is played over the outdoor speaker system.

In 1991, I brought my high school football team to the creaky Rizal Memorial Stadium for the national team’s final group match in the Southeast Asian Games against – who else – the Indonesians. I will never forget that match for a couple of reasons. First, we had drawn with Vietnam and defeated Malaysia in our first two encounters; and so, thus, we had a really good chance of making it to the semi-finals.

Second, it was the first and only time in my life – even up to now – that I had seen the Rizal Memorial with a capacity crowd in attendance to watch a football game. Not that I made too much of the phenomenon. The SEA Games were an excuse to get out of the house; and the whole of the Rizal Sports Complex had a mardi gras atmosphere to it. People who could not get into one arena simply walked over to the next to see if they could get in; and admission was free, by the way.

In other words, many of those inside the stadium with us were the sort who could probably not even distinguish a football from a beach ball. It was fine! I had had my own adventures at the very same arena watched by a handful of people and some stray cats. Believe me, there is nothing more depressing for a football player than to play in an empty stadium!

Therefore, I totally loved the atmosphere! I had borrowed the school flag from the Principal; and when we unveiled it as the match got on its way, we drew cheers from those around us. We so loved all the attention we were getting!

There was a group of Indonesian supporters – in batik, no less – who sat very close to where we were and even brought a drum set with them. We quickly caught the rhythm of their cheers; so every time they started chanting In-do-ne-sia, my boys and I would cheer along with them but replaced the chanting with Pi-li-pi-nas. It was fascinating how viral crowd behavior could get in a packed stadium, because soon the Filipinos close to us joined us in the chanting. Before long, the whole stadium was chanting along with us. Pi-li-pi-nas reverberated around the Rizal Memorial!

The Indonesian supporters looked totally bemused and even helpless that we had taken their chant and used it to spur our boys on. They did get the last laugh, though. We lost 1-2. Tsk! We should have invented our own chant!

But to get back to the point of this story, when the Indonesian national anthem was played over the public address system, we Filipinos inside the stadium were all respectfully silent. Yes, even the hopiâ-manî-Pepsi boys who were raking in more income from a football match than they ever did in their lives.

It was just the way to be! We were not at war with the Indonesians. We were just about to play a football game. There was no point in not having respect.

At the Rizal Memorial that night in 1991, we as a people had so much more class than the eighty thousand packed into the Senayan last night. Who am I kidding, though? I do not for one moment think the Indonesians will behave any differently during the second leg match this Sunday. The crowd will still be disrespectful while the Lupang Hinirang is being played.

They will cheer their team and jeer ours. They will beat manically on their drums. I do know of a foolproof way to silence the Senayan. Are you reading this, Phil Younghusband? Who knows? Maybe, like they did in 1991, this time around we will be having the last laugh.

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